Days Gone Lost: The Misadventures of Charlie Dalinger, Part 1
by Michael Engelby
How I came to this place, and all those before it for that matter, remains an indecipherable shadow of a comprehension mired in a confusing myriad of illusions, but I assure you, this thought isn’t going to be another one of those mental trips which unequivocally fails to create calm for the disrupted, although I must admit to feeling a bit of a lateral progression—generously provided by intoxication—which seems to have lightened a certain sincerity for unemotional appreciation and it appears that the advantages are serving themselves honestly because that distinct disdain for pity, eternal restlessness, self-insinuated sorrow, and ceaseless guilt all seem to have transcended in and upon, above and beyond themselves, fading into the dusty blue hue tinted so because of the way the sun shines off of the reflection of the face in the mirror.
“It was all washed away in the last rain. Scared off. Swirling black clouds, the lightening skies, the rage of the thunder, all that water and the demons. You were there! You saw them! Remember how their voices blew down the old elm tree across the street? Three hundred years. Fell to the ground and thrashed itself into a million pieces. All dead and rotten inside. Left running through the flooding gutters with nothing but a piece of driftwood for a soul. Coming back again. They’re coming back again!” His hands, it was the way they shook as he reached out towards God...and his eyes. The devil was eating his mind. It wasn’t the thunder that he was screaming at it was mercy. You could see the intensity, the purity of fear in his eyes when the lightening flashed.
Pay attention and watch out for the one armed man. Got his brown, corduroy pants pulled-up firmly into his crotch and buckled across his midsection. A red plaid shirt with the left sleeve pinned to his chest. It is neatly creased and ironed flat where the elbow should be. It is meticulous, the absence of his arm. Meticulous.
His nose is red and covered in a spider web of purple veins. Full of twenty years of booze. Can’t see through the glaze over his eyes. There is something about his dirty gapped-toothed smile as he stands there and holds open the door to the bar.
Ponder the moment a moment more and then become perplexed by his politeness and the morality involved with accepting a gesture of such open hospitality. The curious moment between us continues to decline into awkwardness. Simply nod and pass through.
Move into the doorway, and what is that odor climbing out of his flesh? Does he have dead creatures in his pockets? Look over at him again and his crooked smile comes across his face with a breath full of whiskey and tobacco.
“Now you’ll see,” he says. Has that raspy, smoke-aged, and ragged around the edges voice.
Step pass him and walk right into an anxiousness laced with a long since misplaced yearning. Should turn back to leave but all that is there is a door closing back into an empty frame.
Dark, musty shadows sway about the place in irreverence. Smells of stale liquor, old cigarettes, and vomit. The overhead fan churns and chugs blending the odors into the smell of the place, but it seems dry and warm. A shiver rattles the bones as the heat from the kitchen rushes forward and pushes passed. But the rain and damp fog seems to be leaking in through the cracks and crevices, trying to find itself a home in the hazy, smoke-filled air.
The place itself is old and elaborate, made of dark oak. The old bar stands the full length of the room with every intention of standing there for another one hundred, two hundred, three thousand years, destined to support lost souls. Some of those souls are still here, scattered about the place and settled into their own silence as they sip their way through another day. Doors long since closed. A television drones on mercilessly as it dangles cockeyed from the ceiling in the corner. Cockeyed. This whole place feels cockeyed, bottomless.
The bartender looks like he commands the finite edge of reality.
His stern approach, along with those dying gray eyes which are inverted to twice their natural mass because of his thick, heavy glasses--like the ones they give to people just before blindness sets in--cause his entire image to appear incandescent.
One word will follow another and another and another until everything staggers towards the simplicity of replacement. Simple words used to direct yet another misplaced step. Choices.
And off we go.
He returns and pounds the mug down. Watch as it jumps and sloshes with that bit escaping out from under the foam--drop to stream, stream to drop--only to blur the glass down the side. Put the hands around it and feel the relief of the coldness as it runs through the skin. Can feel that wonder twitch in the soul.
“Two bucks! No Tabs!”
Something on the television starts her talking, wasn’t paying attention.
“The winter river, wind and frozen water got him. Pulled him right to the bottom. Three days later the Sheriff had to pull him back up. Bits and pieces. ‘Arm here,’ said the deputy from the banks down below. Huge chunks of frozen river tearing’ through the valley. Grey, ugly grey days. You hear it all day and all night long. Frozen water and land whaling on each other. Ripped him to shreds. ‘Part of a leg up.’ Frozen ice blue, fell to the concrete of the bridge like any other block of ice. Thumpity-dum-tok-tisss. Can still here it sounding back off the river below. Thumpity-dum-tok-tisss. Deep and dark those sounds.” The bartender turns and walks towards the back. Seems to always, the way it looks, to move towards the back when this story reappears.
“He won’t think about it,” she yells at his back. She sits just down the bar. Saw that something coming out of her tired old face even before she said it. The words, the fear and the way they tumbled out of her mind and passed through her eyes until they came falling out of her mouth like marbles to the floor. Have to watch as she tries to keep the ground beneath her from slipping away.
“He was a good boy. Loved his father and me. And smart. He got all the good-grades. Just too much water. There’s no air in the water. And it’s so cold.” The old lines in her face stretch and close back in on themselves. Her soul rises into those lines and tries to sway away from her memories. The lines collapse and rise again, collapse and rise again.
“Something’s always happening to somebody. It can break you down if you think about it too long.” She keeps wringing her hands like she’s trying to squeeze time and death back into the form of a done, long gone past.
“I hate the night time. During the day you can see, but the darkness, you look into it and it stares right back. Sometimes it pushes too hard. Much too hard. Sleep comes along…”
“Sleep! Sleep is for pansies. Bunch of people with nothing better to do. Hell, I don’t have anything to do, but I still won’t sleep. It’s the principle of the thing.” This one is dangerous. His expensive suit and finely trimmed hair don’t look so good covered in street dirt. His face is unshaven and beaten to an off shade of black and blue that had probably been beaten the on shade of black and blue a few days earlier. Banana bruised. He has been sitting at the far end of the place mumbling to himself, but something about the old woman’s words has woken him from his self-induced trance.
The old woman leans over and whispers, “Walks through the streets screaming some dead woman’s name. I can hear it echo down the alleys. All the alleys. Love…”
“Love! Bullshit!” He jumps up from his place and begins to move quickly towards us. He has turned dirty, ugly, cold and lonely. “How dare you! Coy are we? Hah! Love’s about as much fun as getting kicked in the face. Shit! But everyone, everybody, she, he, us and them, we’re all looking’ for a piece. Sure, she loves him, he loves somebody else and somebody, somewhere, just got all their crap thrown out into the front yard and now the god damned neighbors are involved. Or maybe the dollars ate them alive, all them bills and no how and no way of ever getting them paid, or he drinks too much, she’s on the blow, the pills and all of their friends turned out to be assholes and the children turned out to be a couple of snotty little brats, hell, but then maybe again someone else stepped into the picture and started carving sex, disloyalty and pain on the insides of their skulls, or maybe it was nobodies fault, it just fell apart, the creativity of love just went off and died on them. Screw’em all.”
He waves his arms as thick, white, foam drips from the corners of his mouth and the blood-gorged veins strain to hold his eyes in their sockets. His voice becomes shrill as he paces the floor.
“Well now, if the stock market keeps going up and I get that next promotion after working sixteen hour days and weekends, and if I keep eating all of the shit out of all the right asses, why then we’ll be able to buy cars, a big house, watches, emerald earrings, ten pound necklaces of gold and diamonds, big screen TV’s season tickets to everything, stereos, a beach house, the kids will go to private school, the best colleges, maybe then a helicopter or an airplane, vacations anyway and we’ll be too beautiful for fashion baby just so long as it costs at least a thousand dollars and hangs on our naked bodies we’ll be real. Put the pool out back Jack, I am going to go buy Mom a new fur coat and some expensive tin pans, you know how she loves to cook, and that wife, boy to love that woman, gotta get over the top. Don’t have any time for her right now, God bless her patience. She’s there day and night. Sent her flowers every time I was late, but gotta go, gotta go, just got approved for twenty grand on the ole’ platinum card and gotta warm that baby up, winter’s coming you know and once everything has been bought and put in its place she’ll be dead and then you’ll suddenly realize that she was the only thing in the entire world that will have ever been able to offer you a look into the light of a morning sunrise devoid of pain. Love…” His stare into the hardwood floor and the sadness in his pause is causing everything to wait. Rolls his eyes back, now he’s coming back out of the silence.
“Said be careful,” he says. “Come back over to the other side. Aaahhh, felt that one.” His mumbling floats around the room like a bubbling stream. “Says a dream came whispering across my mind the other night. I looked at the sky and it was an upside down blue covered in a salty gray. The rain was soft, warm, and a golden glow was coming up from under the glass sending up a barrage of colored light that was fragmented and distorted because of the broken glass and rain that covered the space between her and me. The reds, the yellows, the greens, the oranges, the purples, the blues.”
This guy paces with determination.
“I got to her in a moment, covered a thousand miles and then ten thousand more, had speed like light, but my feet screamed out as my life began to flow. My hand was outstretched and my fingers were extended until the bones popped, but just as I arrived she faded in the rain and dripped into the light. My feet began to rip and shred as I was torn to a stop by the heat and broken glass below.
“I turned around and I saw her standing in the place from which I had just come. I moved almost as fast, a bit slower. The flesh on my feet was being cut away and was dissolving into the broken glass. But I still moved through the myriad of light with velocity. Covered the thousand miles and the ten thousand more easily, but my mind started to spin as my soul cried out to the above for my body below and for seeing her face once again as I grew ever closer only to watch the colors in the light take her away again.
“I stopped, more flesh torn to the bones, turned and ran again. Reached out even further, and this time got even closer…this time I saw her eyes and in them I saw the depths of loss. Lost faces, those people, places, all those places, time dripping from her cheeks. Then again, the rain and colors of light took her from my sight. I can still taste my name on her breath.
“Looked down into the broken glass and at the feet reduced to bloody, shredded flaps of flesh, and into the glass all around my own reflections showed themselves to be cruel, even to one another. Everyone’s eyes. I repulsed myself from the sight, slowly turned around and from where I had come she had once again been placed. My speed was gone and my life began to feel distant.” The words tear through the gasps in his breath.
“It was all so simple. Just touch her. Cross the ocean of broken glass. Look away from the mutilated images and arrive. Somehow, rose up and grew strength from the distance that existed between us. I was faster than all the times before, more determined, had more courage, brought with me both of our desires. Closer, closer, closer, her eyes.
“It was sorrow, sorrow and loss that dove through the colored light and rain. Dove for her arms. Opened my arms as I moved through her empty space…and then I slid and tumbled, slid and tumbled across the broken glass and rain. Flesh torn from bone and bone from flesh. Held on as I reached back for the horizon. My fingertips held it for a moment as I turned to blood, melted into the raindrops and dripped through the distorted images and broken glass only to evaporate on the fire below. I’ve moved through the last light of her shadow.” He stops and breaths heavily as he stares back down into the hardwood floor for an answer. His head snaps up and his eyes grow angry and then he looks at me as he points to her.
“Seen your son lately? Time moves along, home never had a chance. I thought I saw his brains running through the gutters the other night.” The lost souls grumble and groan at the cruel words hurled at the dead child, the lost old woman.
Keeps looking over at me and I feel bad for the anger in his heart and for those words otherwise never spoken. “Hey baby, spare a nickel, spare a dime? I need some love to give.” Give him a quarter. He flips the quarter at the old woman and she lets it fall to the floor. She spits at him and he laughs.
“How dare you tease a mother about a lost child,” says the old woman.
“Yea, you’re scary man. Got yourself a head full of shit.” Aahh, the greasy haired freak is going to get involved now. Noticed him earlier scribbling in his notebook and sipping on a hippie beer. Walking up to him slowly, slowly so he can see through the peculiar glaze over his eyes.
“Yea, brother, you should go steal yourself a flower off of a grave. Take a little life out of death’s hands. Then maybe live a little softer.” They’re strangely matched, both intent. “Your eyes, how can they be any different from any other creatures? Seen anything better, seen anything worse? Everyone, all of us, it beats through us like a rage. The essence and purity of life screaming in your ears day and night and all because there is something within our souls that knows that each existence is but a brief moment and that within that moment we must create a space, a world, a contribution, something, anything just so long as that existence is realized by someone other than yourself, because deep down, and it is etched into the makeup every living creature, deep down there is a knowledge, a knowing that once the moment is taken away there will be a god and you will be looking into the face of that god and the essence of all creation will look at your freshly wandering soul and there will only be one question, ‘I created you, what did you create,’ and that’s why we scream out in the deepest hours at the darkest times just before the sun rises. It’s that desire that drives people mad. You act as though you are one, alone in this world when in reality you came swimming out of the same pool as the rest of humanity. You tried to create love man, and now it’s bigger than you could have imagined, you just can’t accept it, that’s all. You will never ever be allowed to say good-bye to something that has touched your soul and then wandered off to a different place. But you got to move on brother. Just take a look at yourself. You got to try and live out the rest of it with some semblance of grace.”
The man points an angry finger at the freak. The freak steps closer to him.
“Yeah, yeah, no-no, I know I aint looking good. So! Grace? What Grace? You spend one night in my head you son-of-bitch and we’ll see what you look like in the morning. Screw you, you rotten, smelly, little bastard.”
The man turns and starts walking towards the door. He sees my hands out of the corners of his eyes. They are broken, swollen, and mangled. Blood turned to scabs and stains.
“You been fighting’ boy?” Grabs my face, squeezing my jaw. Can feel the intensity of his frustrations. Stare up into his sorrow, his loss, his pain.
“Well, you better get used to it.”
Could drop him, pound him and his ignorance, but the pain in my face remembers the hands. The hands. Stop. Why? It’s the purity of a desperate passion. Understand the desperation, the passion, let the misunderstanding of my placement in his world dilute the anger. Eyes soften. He pulls his hand away and steps back, pauses and struggles to understand his own efforts.
Spins on a heel and walks to the front door. Hits the door hard, snapping it back off the wall. Passes through and into a clap of thunder. On the sidewalk he turns back and looks into the small window that glows with the neon colors of liquor. He screams, “CAROLINE!”
Echo brick-to-brick, wall-to-wall off the sky and back down again with the rain. It isn’t the volume it’s the madness in his eyes as he screams. Etched there by the density of reality, carved there by a void in his space. No pause, simply another quick turn and he’s walking away. A car drives by and in the headlights I can see her ghost chasing him down the street. See it one, two, three times.
“All dressed up in a black coat of hate. We were only saying the same thing,” says the freak.
“Madness. It’s caused by the ferocity of life, you know? Much too much is simply transferred into an incomprehensible perception which makes the one who has the perception, or perceptions, incomprehensible to other perceptions. Misunderstandings abound. That’s the worst thing about it. You spend days, sometimes even weeks thinking, concentrating, driving along and going back, walking’ and seeing’ it in the intersection just after that old man showed you patience for his time and then gave you respect for your own mortality, but then the past and those dreams keep coming with such a rage that the commonly accepted reality finally just ducks and walks away. Simply not enough room for all of it.” He speaks with a hypnotizing frankness, not like he has any personal interest in the situation, but as though he is simply relaying information that his mind has gathered somewhere along the line and only now has the proper scenario come along. He moves down to the end of the bar where the man who had just called him a son-of-bitch had been sitting. Takes his seat, but he’s not finished talking.
“I suppose he had a point, I mean, she just turned and walked away. I miss her everyday, at least for a little bit. She loved motorcycles, but hated leather. She was a daisy girl, no roses. As beautiful as the day with long, dark, brown, curly hair and black eyes lost in their own mystery, intrigue and sexuality. She had perfect feet and her fingers were like wings. But she used to say things like, ‘Right or wrong, why the hell does it matter.’ I forget what we were talking about. It was the intensity of the statement that confused me and the way her eyes turned that color.
“And she had this tattoo on her ass that said, ‘Kiss My’ one word per cheek. It was carved out in the finest Gothic style. Wish I could put a ring around the whole mess and drop it to the bottom of the ocean. But then again maybe she’ll stop by someday. Drop by and go for a ride. She made love like a genius; cried like an angel but something…I don’t know how all this happened. As everything came together, I love you, I love you we said it at times, really I love you but the wind. Didn’t show up that night, all night.
“I keep looking into that wine bottle with the lipstick stained cigarette in the bottom. Keep thinking that maybe I’d keep it, put it up on the shelf, or maybe that it should just be thrown away. Simply don’t have the heart to decide that type of thing right now.” Looks up and now he’s embarrassed, didn’t realize that he was still talking out loud.
“We were only saying the same thing, that man and I, saying the same thing.”
The man in the sunglasses looks towards him. Seems silent, quiet, and at peace. Been sitting there smiling the whole time. He reaches over and touches the freak’s face. The freak flinches but stays still. As the man runs his hands over his forehead, down his nose, and across his cheeks, contentment seems to overcome him. The man in the sunglasses holds his chin and gently puts a finger on each one of his eyes. Pauses and contemplates.
“It’s not always as it seems, not always as it seems,” he says.
He takes his fingers from the freak’s eyes and reaches over for a cane. He chuckles as he stands.
Can hear the cane, “Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.”
He keeps laughing and tapping as he moves towards the door. The laughing pounds off the walls, the ceiling, the floors. No one looks up; they just want him to go.